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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 22, 2013

Monterey County Strawberry Farm Owner Sentenced To 12 Months Imprisonment For Submitting Fraudlent Claims For Federal Disaster Relief

SAN JOSE, Calif. – An owner-operator of a Monterey County Commercial Strawberry Farm was sentenced on Monday to 12 months and one day in prison for submitting fraudulent claims to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Credit Corporation which resulted in his receiving over $223,000 in federal crop disaster assistance, United States Attorney Melinda Haag announced.

Marco Antonio Barbosa, 50, of Salinas, California, pleaded guilty on December 15, 2010, to making a false statement to the Commodity Credit Corporation, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 714m(a). Barbosa admitted in his plea agreement that he and his wife Maria Guadalupe Barbosa owned and operated a commercial strawberry farm named “Barbosa Farms JV (joint venture)” in Monterey County, California. Barbosa admitted that he submitted fraudulent claims to the Community Credit Corporation to receive crop disaster assistance funds to which he was not entitled. Barbosa defrauded two federal programs: the Crop Disaster Program and the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. Barbosa falsely claimed that he had suffered strawberry crop losses due to excessive heat, falsely claimed to be farming as a joint venture instead of a corporation, and failed to disclose the full extent of his strawberry production. Barbosa received over $223,000 in federal disaster relief as a result of his fraudulent claims.

Lori Chan, the Special Agent-in-Charge for the Western Region of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General for Investigations, said, “the Office of Inspector General will continue to vigorously investigate individuals and entities that seek to violate USDA farm programs and misuse public funds.”

In sentencing Barbosa, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte emphasized that Barbosa had committed a “serious offense,” and that “deterrence is an appropriate concern here.” Judge Whyte stressed that “programs like the one involved here are threatened if people steal from them and don’t respect the requirements of the program.” In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Whyte ordered the defendant to pay $223,484 in restitution, and debarred him from any Department of Agriculture program or Farm Service Agency contract, and sentenced him to a three-year period of supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fazioli is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Legal Assistant Laurie Worthen. The prosecution is the result of a multi-year investigation by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General for Investigations.